I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.—Walt Whtiman
Many times they mentioned his name, those old friends, members long ago of the T. S. They said he would answer my questions convincingly, as they, for all their kindness, never succeeded in doing. They offered many opportunities to talk with him, which were never accepted because I had plans of my own to follow. Friends, I said mentally, even the kindest, always have something they want a young man to do, a book to read or a meeting to attend. A young man with a purpose, my mind thus chattered, must not let himself be diverted; must often listen, of necessity, to friends’ counsel, but need not give heed. So I followed my own path and did not cross Mr. Johnston’s, until ten years later when mine proved to be a blind alley.
Meanwhile Oxford and Cambridge and Gröttingen gave diverse answers that sufficed for a space. Yet always the reiterant question would make itself heard: “What is this thing called ‘living’? and is it worth what it costs’” In a multitude of negative replies, one sounded affirmative, Tolstoi’s. To go to Tolstoi, seemed therefore the sensible thing to do,—to ascertain the reason for his affirmation. So, because Mr. Johnston had travelled in Russia, I condescended, at this point, to see him, for the purpose of planning a pilgrimage to Tolstoi.
Mr. Johnston was most kind in arranging for a call. It was to be one evening. At noon of that day, I made a call upon X-Y-Z-, editor of the —— Review, a literary man with a reputation in the field of Sanskrit literature. He was friendly and yet repellent. He talked well, but for all his culture, had nothing to say. Acquainted with ancient and modern European classics, as well as with Eastern, in his scale of values he put Greek thinkers in the first place. Greek philosophy, he alleged, makes no extraordinary promises; it shows a man how to live his life here and now, and find satisfaction in so doing; any “beyond,” it does not consider; humanism is its foundation and spire. Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, he maintained, appears to offer more than do the Greeks, but it requires a man to jump from the brink into nothingness; though if that jump be made, life, the Eastern sages declare, will for the first time be found. But who knows For himself, X-Y-Z- had never felt impelled to investigate the landing place after the jump.
A sinister drizzle environed that lunch hour, and when lunch was over, I never saw X-Y-Z- again.
That evening, after ten years of hearsay, I called upon Mr. Johnston. There was conversation, of course, but I remember no word of it. For there was Mr. Johnston himself, convincing “by his presence,” by the authority with which he spoke. Arguments, plans, questions, Tolstoi,—all such futile things vanished in that “convincing presence”. Oxford, Cambridge, Göttingen, the Sorbonne, with their charm and their learning, had enrolled no such presence. He let me return the following day, and again and again, but the conversations I do not remember—only himself. For here was one who had done what X-Y-Z- feared to do; he had left the quicksand of earthly life to find himself, not in nothingness, but on his feet upon a Rock . Previous to those happy weeks with him, what I had treasured was a morning at Emerson’s grave, and an afternoon at Wordsworth’s, when those two had been found,—friends. But here incarnate was a friend, “a friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit,” encouraging and inspiring not only by words on paper but by his presence and example. Of those momentous days when he so generously permitted me to be with him, one thing only that he said has stayed in memory—a quotation from Whitman:
Allons! to that which is endless as it was beginningless,
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as
roads for travelling souls.
Later he led me to understand that Whitman’s words are only a variant of Krishna’s in the Gita. Krishna’s words! Divine Wisdom, overlaid and forgotten in East and West alike! To share that treasure with any who would take it, to arouse deaf ears from their sleep of death, was not that the chief motive of Mr. Johnston’s living?